After distributing a quarter million pounds of food to area households, staff at an archdiocesan agency say they’re hungry to do even more.

On Saturday, Nutritional Development Services (NDS) held its 13th large-scale giveaway since October 2020 to counter COVID-related food insecurity. The May 22 event, hosted by Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia, capped a months-long effort that provided close to 7,500 “Farmers to Families Food Boxes,” federally funded packages of fresh meat, dairy products and produce.

The weekend drive-throughs — which took place at various locations within the five-county archdiocesan area — also supplied more than 93,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture children’s meals, as well as some 2,000 large casseroles purchased with a $20,000 donation from the Connelly Foundation.

At each giveaway, dozens of NDS staff and their supporters loaded boxes into recipients’ cars and shopping carts, volunteering hundreds of hours in temperatures that ranged from bitterly cold to blazing hot.

And amid a season of social distancing, they came face to face with those most profoundly affected by the pandemic: families who had lost jobs and loved ones; seniors on fixed incomes stretched to the limit by COVID; immigrants struggling to build a new life during a global crisis.

Those encounters in particular have given the NDS team “a hunger to do more, to do better and to think outside the box,” said Lizanne Hagedorn, the agency’s executive director.

Despite vaccination rollouts and the lifting of COVID restrictions, the economic reopening is “unwritten territory” in terms of its true impact on families, she said.

Hagedorn noted a significant percentage of both adults and children in Pennsylvania are projected to remain food insecure through the end of the year. According to the state’s Department of Agriculture, more than 1.53 million Pennsylvanians experienced chronic hunger every day prior to the pandemic, and since COVID, one out of five workers has filed for assistance.

“We would like to mobilize again,” said Hagedorn, adding that “pop-up produce stands” and smaller scale giveaways are likely options.

NDS has also just launched its annual “Manna Sunday” campaign to replenish its food cupboards during the summer months, a time when donations typically decline.

“Hunger doesn’t take a vacation,” said Hagedorn.

For that reason, “we’re here all year round,” said NDS dietician Jean Falk. “We’re constantly working to get resources to people who need them.”

For Falk, who regularly participated in the distributions with her husband, engaging with NDS clients “revived energy” while refining her sense of how best to serve them.

“There is nothing like that person-to-person contact,” she said. “You get their views on whether it’s helping, and you’re building relationships. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

The giveaways were also a valuable practicum that fostered “commitment and leadership” among NDS staff, said Hagedorn.

Above all, she added, placing food into the hands of clients has been a “humbling” experience.

“I hope that we brought hope,” said Hagedorn. “We’re God’s hands, God’s feet. We’re just the conduit, and really the most important thing is that this has brought some much-needed goodness and grace into people’s lives.”